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225 Years Ago: July - September 1777


On 1st July, 1777 Captain James Cook in the Resolution and Charles Clerke in the Discovery were at the island of Tongatapu, Tonga waiting for an eclipse of the sun, which took place on the 5th. According to Cook "Every one was at their Telescopes viz. Mr Bailey, Mr King, Captain Clerke, Mr Bligh and my self; I lost the observation by not having a dark glass at hand sutable to the Clouds that were continually passing over the Sun and Mr Bligh had not got the sun into the field of his Telescope, so that it was only observed by the other three gentlemen and by them with an uncertanty of severl seconds… Mr Bailey and Mr King observed with the Acromatic Telescopes belonging to the Boa[r]d of Longitude… Captn Clerke obser[v]ed with one of the Reflectors". James King was second lieutenant on the Resolution and William Bligh was master of the same ship. William Bayly was astronomer on the Discovery.

On 10th, wrote George Gilbert, AB on the Resolution and son of Joseph Gilbert, master of the same ship on the previous voyage, "finding supplies begin to grow short, from our having drained this part of the Island of what the Natives could conveniently spare; after a stay of 5 weeks, we sailed for Eaowee or Middleburgh".

Stay at Eua

They arrived at this island, now called Eua, on 12th "in the same place where Captn Cook had been in 1773, which he called English road" wrote William Anderson, surgeon on the Resolution. The next day "a party of us made an excursion to the highest part of the island". According to David Samwell, surgeon's first mate on the Resolution, on 13th "our Boats ashore trading for Provisions & some Canoes about the Ships." The next day Cook "planted a pine apple and sowed the seeds of Millions &ca in the Cheifs Planatation, and had a dish of Turnips to dinner, being the produce of the seeds I left last Voyage." On 15th William Griffin, cooper and ship's corporal on the Resolution, wrote "The natives here stript Wm Collett ye Captns steward naked except [h]is shoes, as he was takeing a walk."

Samwell wrote "Considering the small Distance between this Island and Tongataboo the difference between the Natives is remarkable, these being a small sized mean-looking People in comparison with the others & the women in general are not so handsome. A few of them lay on board the Ship every night."


A WOMAN of EAOO by John Webber
A WOMAN of EAOO by John Webber
Webber completed "a pencil and wash drawing of a young woman with long hair, bare breasts and a double necklace composed of pearls or berries" wrote Rudiger Joppien and Bernard Smith in their book, The Art of Captain Cook's Voyages, The Voyage of the Resolution and Discovery 1776 – 1780, Yale University Press, 1988.

According to Cook "Fidgee lays three days sail from Tongatabu in the direction of NWBW" but, as Gilbert observed "it is somewhat surprizing that Capt Cook did not go in search of it according to His usual practise.

His reasons for not doing it I can't account for; as we certainly had time while we were lying at Tongotaboo."

On 17th, wrote Samwell "we got under Sail… We are now shaping our Course for Otaheite." His next entry is for 8th August: "Nothing remarkable happened on our Passage, till to day when… about noon discovered an Island to the Northward of us". Thus he skips over a storm at the end of July which Nathaniel Portlock, Master's mate on the Discovery, "carrd away our Main Topmast… and two of the people very much hurt. they where sitting on the Main tack… one of them was hove down the fore hatch and the other dassh'd against the Launch". John Henry Martin, midshipman on the ship, "had the watch off deck, was obliged to haul myself up the ladder, on getting upon deck the Scene was horrid, the wreck of the brocken mast hanging over the Side". According to Cook, Clerke "got up a Jury topmast on which he set a Mizon topsail". Clerke was pleased to record "with our Jury Mast we hold our Way with the Resolution very well, by or large: we make her spread all her Canvas."

Arrival at Tahiti

The island discovered on 8th "appeared of little consequence" wrote Cook who found from the islanders its name was "Tooboua" (Tubuai in the Australs). He sailed on, and "steered to the North… and at day-break in the Morning of the 12th we made the island of Maitea and soon after Otaheite". They landed, wrote Gilbert, "in Oai tepeeha Bay; which lies on the North Side of little Otaheite… The Natives came on board in great numbers; were much rejoiced at our arrival, and seemed to express real pleasure on seeing Capt Cook again, whom they all recolected… they were likewise much pleased at seeing Omai again, especially when he told them that he had been in England; they throng round him, and were very eager in asking him questions; but after an hour or two their curiosity subsided, and they seemed to take very little notice of him; which principally proceeded from his stupidity, and his being one of the meanest degree among them. He met with his sister here who received him with tears of joy." John Williamson, third lieutenant on the Resolution, found "that Omai was an assum'd name, his real name being Parridero; Captn Cook ask'd him why he had taken the former name in preference to his own, he reply'd that ye names of all the great Chiefs began wth an O. & that he thought to pass for a great Man".

Clerke found "Our old Friends here were full of News, which they immediately set about relating to us; among other occurrences, they gave us to understand that 2 Ships had been here from Remah (undoubtedly Spaniards from Lima) who had given them some Oxen & Goats, with abundance of Hogs and Dogs; that they had built a House on Shore, and lived with ym 2 or 3 Months. We do not yet understand enough of this Language to form a clear Idea, of what these People mean to inculcate or represent in their Discourse; we found ourselves miserably confused, in this history of the transactions of the Spaniards". Near the house Cook found a "cross on which was cut out the following inscription, viz. Christus Vincit Carlus III imperat 1774. On the other side of the Post which supported the Cross I had cut out, Georgius tertius Rex Annis 1767, 69, 73, 74 & 77." According to Anderson and Samwell the inscribing was not done until the 19th and 20th.

On 14th, wrote Anderson, "the Captain intimated his intention to the ships company of searching for a passage from the south into the Atlantic sea by navigating o the northward of America, and if that should fail to attempt the same by sailing round the northern parts of Asia and Europe. This was done because he found it necessary to stop half their allowance of spirits that our stock might last out in case of failing in our first attempt, and which was become more necessary by not getting to the northward this season. He even hinted that it would be more agreeable if they could dispense with the whole during our stay amongst the islands, which they consented to immediately without an objection". Cook added that he "stoped serving grog except on Saturday nights when they had their full allowance to drink to their female friends in England, lest amongst the pretty girls of Otaheite they should be wholy forgoten."

Move to Matavai Bay

On 23rd, "After a stay of 11 days, having had hard rains, thunder and lightening, most of the time we set sail for Matavai Bay, where we arrived the same day" wrote Gilbert. The next day "Pitch'd a tent for the conveniency of watering, trading and other things on point Venus… A small observatory for making astronomical observations was plac'd near it and also one of these and a large tent from the Discovery", wrote Anderson.

On 25th Cook "sent the three Cows I had on board… the Horse and Mare and Sheep I put on shore at Matavai. And now found my self lightened of a very heavy burden, the trouble and vexation that attended the bringing these Animals thus far is hardly to be conceived. But the satisfaction I felt in having been so fortunate as to fulfill His Majestys design in sending such usefull Animals to two worthy Nations sufficiently recompenced me for the many anxious hours I had on their account."

On 1st September, noted Gilbert, "Capt Cook with some of our Gentlemen went a few miles up into the Country to see an human sacrifice which was to be made to her Deity to entreat success in a expedition they were preparing to go upon against a neighbouring Island." The island was Eimeo or Moorea. According to Cook "I thought this a good opportunity to see something of this extraordinary and Barbarous custom… we set out in my boat with… Dr Anderson and Mr Webber and Omai followed in a Canoe."


A Human Sacrifice at Otaheite by John Webber
A Human Sacrifice at Otaheite by John Webber
According to Joppien and Bernard Smith "The ritual which they witnessed was an extremely complex and lengthy affair extending over two days and it presented Webber with a classic problem in representation, not only because of its duration but also because several aspects of the ritual were enacted more or less simultaneously.

How he went about the task we do not know for none of the field studies which he must have made on location have survived, with the exception of a small water- colour sketch of a part of the setting. For the composition itself however he chose the interrelated sequences of action that took place towards the end of the afternoon of 1 September. Both Cook and Anderson described the whole course of the ritual in admirable detail, but Webber chose to depict only one small part of the total enactment; the section that seemed to capture the high point of the melancholy drama. But whether Webber used the verbal descriptions of Cook and/or Anderson to assist him when he came to compose his drawing or whether, on the other hand, Cook and/or Anderson had access to Webber's lost field studies to assist their memories when writing up their descriptions, is a beguiling question to which we shall probably never know the answer. One thing however is certain, that Webber's drawing accords fairly closely with the related section of the ritual described by both Cook and Anderson."

Cook wrote "They now took the bundles the feathers and the Sacrifice to the great Morai, the two first were laid against the pile of Stones, and at the foot of them the latter was placed round which the Priests Seated themselves and began again their prayers, while some of their attendants dug a hole at the foot of the Morai in which they burryed the Victim. As it was puting into the Grave a boy squeaked out aloud, Omai said it was the Eatua [God]. In the Mean time a fire was made, the Dog... produced and killed, the hair was got off by holding over the fire, the entrails taken out and thrown into the fire where they were left to consume; the hart liver kidnies &ca were laid on the hot stones for a few Minutes and the blood was collected into a Cocoanut shell and afterward rubed over the dog which was held over the fire for about a Minute, then it together with the heart kidnies &ca were carried and laid down before the Priests who were seting round the foot of the grave praying, and which they continued over the dog for some time, while two men beat at times on two drums very loud, and a boy squeeked out as before in a long shrill voice thrice, this as we were told was to call the Eatua to eat what they had prepared for him."


The ceremony continued the next day and then Cook added "The unhappy sufferer seemed to be a Middle aged man, and as we were told a Tou tou but I never understood he had done any crime so as to merit death; it is however certain that they made choise of such for these sacrifices, or else common low fellows who strol about from place to place and island to island without any vesible way of getting an honist livelyhood, of such sort here are enough at these islands… During the Ceremony we were silent but as soon as it was over we made no scruple in giving our sent[i]ments very freely upon it and of Course condemned it."

On 14th Cook wrote "Captain Clerke and I took a ride round the plain of Matavai to the Very great surprise and astonishment of a great train of people who attended us; for tho Omai had been once or twice on horseback he had been as often thrown off before he got himself seated, so that this was the first time they had seen any body ride a horse."

On 17th Griffin wrote "Our Lieutenant of marines, and Mr Williamson went on shore to fight a duel with Pistols, when after one or two rounds, neither being wounded, the Seconds interfered & ended the affair. Many persons would have rejoyced if Mr Williamson our third Lieutenant had fell, as he was a very bad man & a great Tyrant." Molesworth Phillips was in charge of the marines, a Second Lieutenant.

On 20th Cook wrote "Having got all our Water on board the Ships Caulked the rigging overhauled and every thing put in order I began to think about leaving the island, that I might have sufficient time to spare to visit the others. With this view we got on board the observatories, the Instruments and bent the sails." The same day Samwell wrote "Since the beginning of the month no remarkable Transactions have occurred and the Employment and pursuits of one day have been the same as of that before it, such as carrying on the necessary duty of the Ship, watering the Ship, drying our bread and repairing the Sails, while at the same time we were trading with the Natives for Provisions which they brought to us in great Plenty and we never wanted fine Girls on board… The two New Zealand Boys spent much of their time on shore, being much delighted with the Beauty of the Island, & the people behaved in a friendly manner towards them".

The next day he continued "Within these few days past we have learn'd that the Otaheiteans are going to war with the People of Eimeo or York Island, & these last 2 days many War Canoes have come into Matavai Bay, which seems to be their place of Rendezvous. This Morning Otoo had a grand Review of the Fleet, consisting of between 60 and 70 large Canoes decorated with Colours & well stored with Spears & other Instruments of War, with about 12 or 14 Thousand Men in them. Many of the Canoes made a parade by paddling up and down the Bay with two or three men jumping and shewing various military Gestures upon the high Stage[s] which are erected on all the War Canoes & on which they fight… This Formidable Fleet did not go to Eimeo, the King of Maheine having been able to make Peace with Otoo, after Toohah the Admiral had been there & destroyed some of their Canoes & Houses."

On 27th Cook recorded "Our friend Omai got one good thing here for the many good things he gave away, this was a very fine double Sailing Canoe, completely equiped Man'd and fit for the Sea." The same day Samwell wrote "Being ready for sea we struck our Tents & got every thing on board." He continued his journal two days later with "This Morning we got under sail and left Matavai Bay attended by Omai in his large sailing Canoe… we then stood to the Westward for Eimeo".

Arrival at Moorea

On 30th, Samwell wrote "at eleven o'clock anchored in a very good harbour at Eimeo unknown to us before, tho' it is one of the best Harbours we have met with among the South Sea Islands." Cook added "This harbour is called Talough it is situated on the North side of the island in the district of Oboonohou; it extends in south or SBE between the hills above two miles, for security and the goodness of its bottom it is not inferior to any harbour I have met with in any of the islands, and has this advantage over most of them, that a Ship can sail both in and out with the reigning trade wind, so that the access and recess are equally easy."

"It is a little extraordinary that I should have been thrice at Otaheite before and on[c]e sent a boat to this island and yet not know there was a harbour in it, on the contrary I always understood there was not" wrote Cook, 225 years ago.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 1977, volume 25, number 3 (2002).

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